We’ve already covered our Group Stage predictions for World Cup Groups A through D. And now we still have four more groups to cover in this predictions bonanza. Let’s not waste any more time shall we, and dive straight in.
Group E: Switzerland, France, Ecuador & Honduras
Switzerland, under German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, qualified for the World Cup with relative ease booking their spot with a game to spare. In terms of attacking sensibilities Switzerland have the players to hurt the other sides in their group. In Xherdan Shaqiri, Gökhan Inler, Granit Xhaka, and Josep Drmić the Swiss have a group of players who will create chances, but they’ll need to convert them. Shaqiri has a particular point to prove given his lack of game time at Bayern Munich; Pep Guardiola labeled the Swiss international as his “most important bench player,” not a tag that Shaqiri will cherish too much. Fabian Schär is another player worth watching with the young defender being linked to Arsenal, whilst Stephan Lichsteiner will provide width from his fullback position. Hitzfeld will keep an eye on his right flank though as it could be susceptible to counters should Lichsteiner find himself out of position.
Ecuador qualified fourth in the South American qualifiers, stuttering over the finish line with only one win in their last six qualification games. It was a difficult period for the Ecuadorians as they tragically lost striker Christian Benitez last July as a result of heart failure. Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia captains the side and, along with fellow winger Jefferson Montero, will be crucial to how the Ecuadorians will play. Coach Reinaldo Rueda will look for his team to get the ball wide as quickly as possible and attack the opposition from the flanks. Montero will be one to watch given his unpredictable nature. Enner Valencia has been making a name for himself whilst everyone knows what they’ll get from Antonio Valencia. For Ecuador to progress the team will need to click into gear as a unit right from the start and avoid defensive clangers like this:
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Life is never dull with France. After coming from 2-0 down in the playoffs against Ukraine to win 3-2 on aggregate, they were drawn in a relatively easy group only to have Clément Grenier and more importantly Franck Ribéry ruled out with injury. Didier Deschamps doesn’t even have the luxury of calling up Samir Nasri after axing the Manchester City forward. Howeve,r Deschamps’ focus is not on picking the best eleven players, but those who he thinks will form the best team. Even with Ribéry out, the French still possess a very strong spine with Hugo Lloris in goal, Laurent Koscielny at the back, Paul Pogba in midfield, and Karim Benzema up front. Also, Ribery’s misfortune could open the door for Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann to show everyone that he’s made for this level of football. With the memories of the 2010 World Cup still lingering, Didier Deschamps will be on his guard to ensure that the squad remains harmonious and avoids complacency. Losing Ribery is no doubt a big blow but it is not a fatal one for the French. Should this squad come together and pull in the same direction then we could see Les Bleus make a decent impression on the World Cup.
Honduras is not expected to do much in the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean they’ll make things easy for their opponents. Strong and compact, the Hondurans will be looking to record their first World Cup win at the very least. Wilson Palacios will patrol the midfield, and the Hondurans will try to use their pace on the counter and their strength at set pieces to gain the upper hand. Expect to see La Costlynha if the ball goes to striker Carlo Costly.
The Hondurans will not overawe physically, but will need to keep their discipline to ensure that they are not hit with a raft of suspensions. This will be Honduras’ third appearance in the World Cup, having featured in 1982 and 2010 with a record of three draws and three losses. One of those draws came in the 2010 World Cup against Switzerland.
Group Winners: France
Runners Up: Switzerland
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran & Nigeria
The Argentineans will no doubt revel in their role as potential party poopers, especially if they manage to beat Brazil in the final. This is a side with an embarrassment of riches going forward with the likes Ángel Di María, Sergio Agüero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuaín, and of course the talismanic Lionel Messi giving the Albiceleste an unrivalled goal threat. The Argentineans qualified easily from the South American qualifying section and should comfortably negotiate their World Cup group. This won’t be Lionel Messi’s only opportunity to win the World Cup, but if he were to lift the trophy on Brazilian soil he will cement himself as one of the all time greats. The defense is pretty solid as well with the likes of Pablo Zabeleta and Ezequiel Garay patrolling the backline, though they’ll hope goalkeeper Sergio Romero will have spent enough minutes in goal to ensure that things remain tight at the back. A lot will depend on Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago too as they will be required to shield the defense, win back possession, and give the ball to their supremely gifted frontline. Coach Alejandro Sabella has managed to put together a formidable unit harnessing the team’s natural gifts whilst giving them a strong collective identity. Reaching the final is the bare minimum for Argentina.
Bosnia and Herzegovina qualified for their first World Cup, topping their group on goal difference. This is a team packed with attacking talent with Edin Džeko leading the line and Miralem Pjaneć providing the guile as the Bosnians will be looking to give their nation a lift with a good showing at the World Cup. Coach Safet Sušić has imbued his side with an extremely attacking philosophy so at the very least expect any match involving the Bosnians to contain a fair number of goals. Asmir Begović should expect to have a few shots to save, but the Bosnians can rest assured that they possess an extremely good goalkeeper who is capable of putting in match-saving performances. The Bosnians have the firepower to negotiate the group stage; they just have to hope that the likes of Džeko and Vedad Ibišević convert the chances that come their way. They’ll be the only team making their debut at the World Cup and will certainly be an entertaining side to watch.
Iran, coached by former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz, has never qualified for the knock out stages of the World Cup and they’re unlikely to break their duck. Queiroz has managed to convince the likes of Steven Beitashour to represent Iran, which has strengthened the backline. In Alireza Jahanbaksh, he has a genuine talent who could go on to be a star if he continues to develop; indeed, Jahanbaksh was voted the best young player in the Dutch Eredivisie this season. Andranik Teymourian will be important in the Iranian’s midfield whilst upfront a lot will rest on the shoulders of Reza Ghoochannejad and Ashkan Dejagah. However, Iran will come into the tournament as one of the most underprepared teams due to a lack of support from the Iranian Football Federation and top clubs within the country. Queiroz has lamented the slipshod preparations and has admitted himself that the Iranians “will not make it to the next round.”
Nigeria, the current African champions, possesses a few names that Premier League fans will be familiar with. Coach Steven Keshi has lifted the mood of the Super Eagles fans and has stuck to his guns in shaping the team the way he wants. Keshi’s emphasis has been on youth, and he has also instilled tactical flexibility within the team as well as getting the best out of Jon Obi Mikel. For Keshi himself, it’s been a triumph, as he’s had to fight political battles with his own football association in order to implement his vision. Thus far it has been a success with Keshi leading the Super Eagles to the African Cup of Nations title as well as qualifying for the World Cup with relative ease, topping their group before dispatching Ethiopia 4-1 on aggregate. The key match will be against Bosnia and Herzegovina and with the attacking talent on display for both sides, the clash could be one of the more goal-laden games in this World Cup. Peter Odemwingie, seemingly enjoying his football at Stoke, Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses will pose questions to opposing defenders, but at the back the Nigerians will need to be solid if they wish to progress to the latter stages of the tournament.
Group Winners: Argentina
Runners Up: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana & USA
Germany feature in a group that allows no room for error. There is also the added pressure of this collection of players needing to realize their potential and win the World Cup. Anything less would simply be considered a failure. Germany has an intensely strong squad with arguably the world’s best goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer; their defense is solid, though Coach Joachim Low probably wishes that he had two Philipp Lahms to fill the full-back positions. Even with Marco Reus ruled out, the Germans still have the likes of Mario Götze, Thomas Müller, Julian Draxler, and of course Mesut Özil. The attacking potential of the Germans is frightening but, and it’s a big BUT, they do not possess a striker to match the class and caliber of their attacking midfielders. Miroslav Klose, who recently overtook Gerd Müller as Germany’s record goal scorer, will be expected to lead the attack, but at 35 is this a World Cup too far for him? He will have the added incentive of potentially becoming the all-time leading World Cup scorer if he bags at least two goals in this tournament. A lot will depend on the defensive midfielders as well with Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira (who has just returned from injury) and Bastian Schweinsteiger required to form a solid platform to help the German attack to flourish. This team is good enough to win the World Cup, but can they cope with the pressure and expectation that comes with the ‘favorites’ tag? Only time will tell.
Portugal is hoping that their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo will be fit for their World Cup campaign, though a Ghanaian witch doctor is planning otherwise. Portugal breathed a sigh of relief when Ronaldo returned to action in a 5-1 win over the Republic of Ireland, and it’s hard to imagine them functioning without him, such is the importance of the current Ballon D’or holder. Despite possessing the likes of Bruno Alves, Fábio Coentrão, Pepe, João Moutinho and the highly rated William Carvalho, such is the dependency on Ronaldo that the psychological blow of losing him would be devastating especially as Portugal, like the Germans, are short of top quality strikers. With a fully fit Ronaldo in their ranks, the Portuguese can launch devastating counter attacks and can always rely on him to pull something out of the bag if they need it. Without him the Portuguese will need to have Moutinho pulling the strings and hope that the likes of Nani, Helder Postiga, Éder or another attacker weighs in with their share of goals. As important as Ronaldo is to Portugal, do not underestimate the influence of Moutinho, who will dictate the play for the Portuguese. Don’t be surprised if Moutinho is at the heart of most of Portugal’s goals.
Ghana was only a penalty kick away from becoming the first African side to reach the World Cup semifinals four years ago. Alas, it wasn’t to be and now the Black Stars’ hopes of emulating their World Cup adventure in South Africa is far more difficult given the group they are in. Ghana made it to the World Cup easily enough, thumping Bob Bradley’s Egypt 7-3 on aggregate in the play offs and ended up as the continent’s top scorers netting 25 goals on the road to qualification. Asamoah Gyan will be a key figure for them once again and despite his move to the UAE, he has still been banging the goals in for the Black Stars. He’ll be ably supported by Kevin-Prince Boateng. The midfield will be patrolled by Sulley Muntari, Kwado Asamoah, and Michael Essien. Their weakness lies in goal where there really isn’t a dominant number one so the Ghanaians and their coach James Kwsei Appiah may hope that their front line deliver as they’ll likely need to score more than one goal a game to obtain a result in this group. The fans of the Black Stars and the ‘Pot Man’ (not that kind of pot!) hope that Gyan and company can go on another memorable World Cup run.
The USA can consider themselves unfortunate to be drawn in this group, but their inclusion has thrown up an intriguing plot line if nothing else. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann will be hoping to once again defeat his former assistant Joachim Low when the US face Germany. Klinsmann is not afraid of making big decisions, most notably dropping Landon Donovan from the 23-man squad, though the former German international striker can claim that he’s earned the right to make the big calls. After an initially difficult start, Klinsmann oversaw victories over Italy (away), Mexico (away), and Germany, produced a 12-match winning run in 2013, and won the Gold Cup. Critics have argued that Klinsmann is not tactically sound enough, but he has put his stamp on a strong American side and opponents won’t find it easy against a hard working US team. He’s well stocked in the goalkeeping department with Premier League duo Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Their defense will need the likes of Geoff Cameron and DaMarcus Beasley to provide leadership. The midfield is industrious with Michael Bradley a key figure, and upfront a lot will depend on Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, who bagged a welcome brace against Nigeria. Klinsmann is targeting a place in the knockout phase of the World Cup. To do that, the Americans will need to hit the ground running.
Group Winners: Germany
Runners Up: Portugal
Group H: Algeria, Belgium, Russia & South Korea
Algeria was the last team from Africa to qualify for the World Cup, narrowly edging Burkina Faso on the away goals rule. The Desert Foxes have won favor with the likes of Javier Zanetti, Rivaldo, and Diego Maradona all believing that Algeria has the potential to surprise their opponents. It would be in keeping with Algeria’s World Cup history if they do cause a hiccup – in 2010 they held a lackluster England to a 0-0 draw, and more spectacularly in 1982 they beat West Germany and Chile only to be denied a place in the knockout stage when the West Germans and Austrians colluded to play out a sterile match which ensured that they went through at Algeria’s expense.
Keep an eye on Sofiane Feghouli, who will be central to Algeria’s attacking plans, and striker Islam Slimani, who currently plays for Sporting Lisbon. Coach Vahid Halilhodžić also has the talents of Nabil Bentaleb to call upon as the Tottenham man pledged his allegiance to Algeria. In fact, a fair number of their squad ply their trade in Europe, playing in the Italian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish leagues. If the Algerians can get their game together they could give the big guns in their group a run for their money; but despite their ambitions to qualify for the knock out stages, it’s hard to see them getting past the first hurdle.
Belgium, the fifth favourites for the tournament, has an exceptionally talented squad, though they will be hoping that Romelu Lukaku recovers from his injury quickly to lead the attack. Their strength in depth is awesome, boasting one of the tournament’s stand out goalkeepers in Thibaut Cortois; their backline is led by Vincent Kompany and features the likes of Jan Vertongen and Toby Alderweireld but it’s their midfield where the Belgians are really blessed. Axel Witsel will screen the back four and keep the game ticking for the Red Devils, allowing the attacking talents of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, and Adnan Januzaj or Kevin De Bruyne to flourish and get at their opponents. Belgium is a side that is technically gifted but can be physical if the match demands it. The backline can more than hold their own and Marc Wilmots can draft in the likes of Marouane Fellaini who, despite a disappointing season at Manchester United, can add a bit of muscle and bully opponents. A lot of soccer fans and pundits expect Belgium to perform at the World Cup and they shouldn’t allow themselves be weighed down by the levels of expectation. That said, a number of this side play for big European clubs so the players shouldn’t be overawed by what they can achieve. Belgium’s best World Cup run came in 1986 when they finished fourth in Mexico. 2014 represents their best chance to match and possibly better that run.
Russia and their coach Fabio Capello will be hoping to make a good impression in this World Cup as their records in the competition aren’t the most eye-catching. Russia has never gone beyond the group stages of the World Cup, and Capello’s nightmare in South Africa is something the Italian is keen to prove is nothing more than a blip on his illustrious resume. Igor Akinfeev will be a key man for them following in the tradition of fine Russian goalkeepers. In front of Akinfeev the Russian defense is not terribly generous, conceding only five goals in 10 qualifying matches. They suffered a blow in losing Roman Shirokov to injury, but they do have Alan Dzagoev, who will be their creative lynchpin, and Alexander Kerzhakov will be the main goal scoring threat for the Russians. One would expect the Russians to go through, especially with a coach as successful as Capello in charge, but they cannot take their games against South Korea or Algeria lightly. If Russia stumble at the first hurdle then they will not play another competitive World Cup-related game until 2018, when they host the tournament.
South Korea go into this World Cup with one of the younger sides in the tournament with an average age of 25.7 years, and coach Hong Myung-Bo hopes that his team’s pace, skill and athleticism will see them progress into the knockout round. Don’t put it past them either, as South Korea is not the easiest side to play against and they will not stop running until the final whistle goes. Their main man will be Son Heung-min, who has pace to burn and is comfortable with both feet. Kim Young-kwon is an important player too; he has been touted for bigger and better things by his Guangzhou Evergrande manager, Marcello Lippi. If Lee Chong-Yong can rediscover his form prior to his injury, then the South Koreans have another pacy skillful outlet to channel their attacks. The classy Ki Seung-yueng and Kim Bo-kyung are capable of dictating the tempo of a game in midfield. The major concern is with their goalkeepers and whether Jung Sung-Ryung and Kim Seung-gyu can step up their game and protect the South Korean goal. Their match against Russia will likely decide who will progress through to the knockout stages.
Group Winners: Belgium
Runners Up: Russia
So there you have it, but the time for talking is pretty much done. Bring on the World Cup!